Everyone wants a radiant complexion, but skin concerns like acne, dark spots, and redness don’t always make that goal easy — not to mention all these conditions dull your skin’s glow. And no matter how well you take care of your skin, sometimes these issues happen due to stress, hormones, environmental aggressors, and so many other factors. So, the next time something pops up, there’s a new healthy-skin star to the rescue: azelaic acid.
“Azelaic acid is a multi-functional support ingredient for all skin types and also acts as an effective antioxidant,” explains Sheel Desai Solomon, M.D., a board certified dermatologist and founder of Preston Dermatology & Skin Surgery in North Carolina. For breakout-prone complexions, the topical skin savior is particularly beneficial because “those with acne-prone skin might suffer pigmentation issues from scarring,” Robinson says.
What does azelaic acid do to your skin?
The ingredient — which is derived from wheat, grains, and barley — helps “brighten the skin tone while visibly improving the evenness of skin texture and reducing the look of blemishes,” says Solomon.
Besides targeting existing issues, the illuminating ingredient can also heal damage already done: azelaic acid “controls melanin (skin pigment) production, reducing the appearance of dark spots,” says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder, and CEO of beautystat.com. Key benefits are:
- Fights acne
- Treats rosacea
- Lightens hyperpigmentation
- Removes dead skin cells
How does azelaic acid fight acne?
“It helps the skin to renew itself more quickly and therefore reduces pimple and blackhead formation,” explains Dr. Solomon. Furthermore, “it also helps to kill the bacteria that can cause acne and rosacea,” she says.
Consumers have caught on to its healing powers: just check out the rave reviews on Paula’s Choice Boost 10% Azelaic Acid Booster. “Let’s just say that the mid-40s have not been kind to my skin: hormonal outbursts of acne and mild rosacea, increased oil production, ever-expanding pores — the whole 9 yards,” says one user. “This is basically the only thing holding my fragile facial ecosystem together.” Another Amazon reviewer raves, “This product has provided the most noticeable change for my acne-prone and hyperpigmented skin.”
Is azelaic acid safe?
The ingredient only sounds harsh, so don’t be intimidated by the word “acid.” In skin care, acids boast big benefits for your complexion. It is unique from other acids though: “Unlike glycolic and lactic acids, azelaic acid is not an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and it’s not a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) like salicylic acid either,” says Dr. Solomon.
It’s in its own category, as “azelaic acid is produced by a yeast that occurs naturally on our skin,” she says. It has been shown to be safe topically in both prescription and over-the-counter formulations. “While much of the research on this ingredient has looked at prescription-only topical products with concentrations between 15% and 20%, there are incredible benefits to be seen even at lower concentrations,” says Dr. Solomon.
Can you use azelaic acid every day?
Yes. “It is safe to use twice a day—morning and night—or once every other day for those with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Solomon. Be aware that azelaic acid can be drying or cause peeling on the skin where it’s applied. To prevent dryness and additional environmental damage, “follow it with a hydrating moisturizer and a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher in the morning,” says Dr. Solomon. And if you are using it with other actives or acids like AHAs, retinols, or BHAs, “apply [them] first to open up the skin and help accept the azelaic acid more readily,” says Dr. Solomon.
If you have stubborn or advance skin concerns, consult your dermatologist to discuss whether a prescription azelaic acid is a solution for you. For complexion issues like occasional breakouts and mild rosacea, “research has shown that a 10% concentration can still improve many of the visible imperfections from bumps to dull, uneven skin tone and various concerns related to aging,” says Dr. Solomon.